The trouble with adults conceiving a kids' movie is that generation gaps obey Moore's law as much as IC technology does. In a few decades, we will have super-kids who will not only be outlanders to an adult-world quickly going obsolete, but will also, thankfully for them, be able to direct their movies themselves.
Our children, by definition, will never cease to amaze us by their precocity. Which is why, no matter how good Gulabilu might seem to us grown-ups, it will always be a little unrelate-able and goofy to our kids.
That teeny weeny circumstantial flaw apart, Gulabilu is a thoroughly charming kids' movie that makes an artistically veiled foray into the area of child psychology.
A few kids may leave the theater calling it 'kindah boring' in their American sitcom-ised accents, but for the remaining, it's a movie with a pinch of most emotions they can be piqued by. There's giggles, there's tears, and there's castor-oil bitterness. All played out very neatly by actors, to captivate your average Guddu's mind quite nicely.
Varshini and Trisha, who play Laya and Ramya, the lead 8-year-old pairing in the movie, are clearly naturals. Varshini acts out every one of her scenes with the articulation and expressiveness of a Bharatnatyam dancer. Possibly, she is one considering that there is a dance sequence in the movie where both girls manage some rather complicated moves.
Ramya (Trisha) is her bonny, wide-eyed sidekick, who plays her part of innocent indignation quite adorably. The story is about these two inseparable friends who go to school together, play together, learn dancing together, and stop to admire a beautiful garden of roses (gulabilu) everyday, together.
Some of their scenes have the right amount of childish madness - like when they keep dropping each other back home in iterations so the other needn't be alone. Or when they name the watchman of the rose-garden 'rakshasuda', and jump around singing songs about him.
Tragedy, or rather trauma strikes when Laya enters the garden to pick a rose and gets caught by the demoness-like owner who screams at her and calls her a thief. The insult scars Laya so badly, she falls ill and even breaks up with Ramya for having deserted her when she was caught. She suddenly turns bitter, and when she moves to a new house with her family, sows her own rose-garden and guards it with vengeful zeal.
The drastic change in their daughter bothers her parents (played by Suresh and Krishnashri) who decide to take her to a child psychologist. How she is won back to her original innocence, generosity and trusting nature is the rest of the story.
While children are bound to yawn theatrically and get snide with the maudlin scenes, the story does have some timeless appeal as well. The character relationships are believable if not the characters themselves, and the movement of the plot is not far-removed from real life.
On the minus side, the movie has a documentary film like look, with slate board titles in the beginning and rather obvious make-up on the children. But that's the plus too; it has a documentary film's believability and germane morality.
The movie can't be missed if ever on TV, though children might not exactly consider it a fun outing to a theater. But for its clever portrayal of the complexity of a child's trauma and the apparent (if unrealistic) ease with which it is dealt, the movie has a fairy tale optimism that makes it feel-good all the way.
All in all, a decent movie with brilliantly believable child actors. A must watch if you want to know what direction Indian children's cinema is taking.